18th-Century Art of the Colonial Americas and Early 19th-Century Art

Level 1 Galleries

Level 1’s spectacular central galleries feature paintings, furniture, textiles, and silver from colonial Boston and other regions, as well as art of the United States created just before and in the wake of the American Revolution. Other galleries highlight the MFA’s collection of works by John Singleton Copley, Newport furniture, and works made by American artists abroad. In addition, period rooms and rural and vernacular arts of the 18th century are also on view, while other galleries focus on furniture design and construction and regional styles in the arts, including those of New Spain.

Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch Gallery / Colonial Boston

Paul Revere, 1768, John Singleton CopleyThis large gallery presents some of the finest works of art in many media related to Boston in the formative decades preceding and up through the American Revolution. Iconic portraits of patriots and other civic leaders by John Singleton Copley surround Paul Revere’s most historically significant work in silver, the Sons of Liberty Bowl (1768). Distinctive types of Boston furniture, among them blockfront, bombé, and japanned forms, are displayed, as are prints and textiles such as needlework pictures. These collections offer an unparalleled opportunity for visitors to see and experience the extraordinary paintings and decorative arts that were produced in Boston during the colonial era.

Kristin and Roger Servison Gallery / Arts of the New Nation, 1815–1830

The Passage of the Delaware, 1819, Thomas SullyThomas Sully’s monumental Passage of the Delaware (1819) serves as a focal point of this gallery, which is dedicated to illustrating the iconography of the new nation after the American Revolution. Some of the large, more public imagery of the new Republic is displayed here, including a carved and gilded eagle attributed to Samuel McIntire, John Neagle’s Pat Lyon at the Forge (1826-27), and Gilbert Stuart’s iconic portraits of George and Martha Washington (1796). This space also illustrates how neoclassicism—the visual vocabulary of ancient Greece and Rome—helped define the new nation after the American Revolution. Related to the adjacent Neoclassical Gallery, it features objects reflecting the second phase of neoclassicism in America, with such Grecian forms as the Museum’s Baltimore couch, silver by Fletcher and Gardiner of Philadelphia, and glass by Thomas Cains and the New England Glass Company.

Regional Styles in the 18th Century

Coffeepot, about 1770–1780, Richard HumphreysDrawing on the Museum’s preeminent collection of high-style 18th-century furniture, silver, and portrait paintings, this gallery explores regional preferences and characteristics in the Revolutionary period. In addition to presenting direct regional comparisons, the gallery features the important artistic centers of New York and Philadelphia, along with selected objects from New Hampshire to Venezuela. Exceptional baroque and rococo silver displayed here includes a bread basket by Daniel Christian Fueter of New York, a coffeepot and stand by Richard Humphreys of Philadelphia, and a creampot by Samuel Casey of Rhode Island. Richly carved rococo furniture from Philadelphia, including a high chest, dressing table, and tilt-top tea table, is displayed in comparison with masterpieces from New York, among them a massive chest-on-chest attributed to Samuel Prince, and a marble-topped slab table often used for preparing drinks. The gallery also contrasts portraits created in different regions by such well known painters as John Singleton Copley of Boston, Charles Willson Peale of Philadelphia, John Wollaston of New York, and John Hesselius of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

William J. Fitzgerald Gallery / New Spain and the Spanish Tradition

Cover, Peruvian, late 17th to early 18th centuryWhile patrons and craftsmen in North America largely looked to England or France for inspiration, Central and South American colonies were influenced by the arts and architecture of Spain, from the period of contact in the 15th century until well into the 19th century. Miguel Cabrera’s portrait Don Manuel Jose Rubio y Salinas, Archbishop of Mexico (1754), newly acquired by the MFA, serves as a focal point of the gallery, which also features a wide range of decorative arts. Among the most important objects shown here, rotated within the gallery, are selections from the Museum’s outstanding collection of Peruvian tapestries and other textiles. Another highlight of the gallery is a recently acquired Mexican escritorio (writing cabinet) dating from 1650-1700. Altar plaques, a missal stand, a chocolate pot, and ornamental equestrian silver demonstrate the elaborately decorated and massive quality of much Spanish colonial silver. Tin-glazed earthenwares from Puebla and ornate furniture from Mexico and South America also are featured. Decorative arts and paintings on loan from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros will serve to augment the MFA collections in this area.

Liberty Mutual Gallery / American Artists Abroad

King Lear, 1788, Benjamin WestFeaturing large-scale paintings by Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley, this gallery highlights the successful careers fashioned by 18th-century Americans in London, capital of the Anglo-American art world. In that city, West and Copley became innovators rather than imitators, earning acclaim as artists and tastemakers. Both turned increasingly to grand manner history painting, a form of art then considered to be the most important type and one that had proven difficult to undertake and sustain in the North American colonies. The gallery showcases West’s monumental and dramatic King Lear (1788), originally painted for John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery in London. West’s early neoclassical group portrait, The Hope Family of Sydenham Kent (1802), and Copley’s Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Izard (1775), which features the Colosseum and other treasures of classical art, also are on display. Neoclassical works by American sculptors active in Italy are on view as well, including Thomas Crawford’s severely elegant Hebe and Ganymede (about 1851) and Horatio Greenough’s marble portrait of his beloved dog, Arno (1839), named after the river in Florence. Drawings by these artists will also be displayed here on a rotating basis, along with examples of the Boydell prints after Shakespeare.

Norma and Roger Alfred Saunders Gallery / Copley

Watson and the Shark, 1778, John Singleton CopleyJohn Singleton Copley was one of the finest painters in the North American colonies, and the collection of his work at the MFA is unparalleled. A highlight of the Copley Gallery is the monumental Watson and the Shark (1778), his first major history painting and an icon of the Museum’s collection. Copley’s achievements as an artist are highlighted in the gallery, from his development as a self-taught craftsman copying English prints to a confident and ambitious painter anxious to prove himself on an international stage. Included are many of his portraits of Boston’s first families, such as the Goldthwaits and the Boylstons, in which Copley combined his own artistic aspirations with the social goals of his sitters. Visitors will be able to compare Copley’s early works to the British prints that inspired him, experience the complete range of media and formats in which he worked—including his miniatures and pastels—and see his evolution from a provincial tradesman to one of Britain’s leading painters. An interactive touch screen enhances the appreciation of Copley by offering an exploration of his career.

Marilyn and John F. Keane Family Gallery / America’s Contribution to Craftsmanship: Newport Furniture of the 18th Century

Desk and bookcase, 1760–75The collector and MFA benefactor Maxim Karolik referred to the distinctive Newport, Rhode Island, furniture of the 18th century as “America’s contribution to craftsmanship.” This gallery, complementing the nearby display of high-style colonial paintings by Copley, features many works of art from the Karolik Collection. The installation focuses exclusively on the products of the cabinetmakers from this small New England seaport, especially the Goddards and Townsends. The block-and-shell furniture of Newport is perhaps its most beautiful expression, and many examples, including two desk and bookcases, a dressing table by Edmund Townsend, a tall-case clock, and two chests of drawers are featured here. Other important pieces include a Pembroke table and a high chest attributed to John Townsend, a large commode owned originally by Captain Peter Simon, and a columnar tea table attributed to John Goddard.

C. Kevin and G. Barrie Landry Gallery / At Home in the New Nation, 1790–1820

Anna Claypoole Peale, about 1825, James PealeAfter the Revolution, Americans embraced the international style now known as neoclassicism with full vigor, infusing objects in all media with the artistic vocabulary of Greece and Rome. This mixed-media gallery complements the adjacent space, “Arts of the New Nation,” and explores the increasing sophistication and refinement of elite homes in the early republic. Displays examine the proliferation of specialized forms in furniture and silver, among them gender-specific objects for women’s activities and leisure-oriented objects, work tables, or pianos to accommodate new social tastes. All works in the gallery share a refinement and delicacy typical of the neoclassical style, and many include decorative motifs such as urns and columns. Paintings and textiles on view similarly reflect the neoclassical taste for crisp outlines, for bust-length imagery, and for classically inspired fashion. Examples by Samuel F.B. Morse, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale and James Peale are featured in the gallery, which also includes sculpture, needlework, costumes, jewelry, and changing displays of portrait miniatures, many painted by women such as Anna Claypoole Peale.

Edward W. and L. Linder Lombard Gallery / The Jaffrey Parlor, ca. 1730

Portrait of George Jaffrey II (1682–1749), about 1715The woodwork in this room was part of a grand, hip-roofed mansion built about 1730 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by George Jaffrey II, a prominent merchant and politician. As the main parlor on the ground floor of the house, the room was a public space for entertaining and business dealings as well as for private family gatherings. The overall symmetry of the paneling—punctuated by the elaborately carved, Corinthian pilasters flanking the fireplace—marks an early appearance in New England of the English Georgian architectural style. By the early 20th century, the Jaffrey house had fallen into disrepair and was threatened with demolition. In 1919, the Museum acquired this room and other woodwork from the house—including the large and lavishly painted cupboard in the adjacent gallery. The house was torn down in 1920. The furnishings here are based on the inventory of the house taken at the time of Jaffrey’s death in 1749. The room contained four window squabs (cushions), a desk, three tables, 10 chairs with cushions, prints, maps, andirons and bellows, Asian-export ceramics, and glassware (probably English). English or American silverware was stored in the cupboard. The inventory reveals that, although the woodwork may have been stylistically avant-garde, the furnishings were older, including some that belonged to George Jaffrey I. These objects, many of which were imported from Europe, demonstrated the wealth and gentility of their owner and are testimony to the grandeur of mercantile life along the shores of the Piscataqua River.

Sandra Sheppard Rodgers Gallery / The Shepard Parlor, ca. 1803

Desk, about 1810This period room was formerly the parlor of the George Shepard house, constructed about 1803 in Bath, Maine. The room demonstrates the refinement and cosmopolitan nature of the home of a prosperous New Englander at the turn of the 19th century. Its outstanding feature is the original, imported wallpaper—two sets of sophisticated, hand-painted designs imported from France. “Les Jardins de Bagatelle” was made about 1798 by Arthur and Robert, a Paris design firm; panels of it are on the mantel wall. The other paper, by an unknown maker, was created about the same time. According to family tradition, Captain James Hall brought the papers to Bath in 1804; they were hung in the house shortly thereafter and have survived to this day. The room is furnished with furniture of the period from Boston and northern New England and other objects appropriate to a stylish federal-period interior.

Lurie-Marks Gallery / Rural and Vernacular Arts in the 18th Century

Martin Licht, 1814In contrast to the largely urban emphasis of most galleries on this floor, this space offers an opportunity to examine the rural, vernacular, and popular arts of the North American countryside in the 18th century. Highlights include one of the Museum’s period doorways from the Connecticut Valley and the paneled wall from the parlor of the Shumway house from Fiskedale, Massachusetts, with its cupboard filled with early pewter. Also featured is painted furniture from rural New England and Pennsylvania; redware and stoneware from the period; portraits by Connecticut artists Winthrop Chandler, Ralph Earl, John Brewster, Ammi Phillips, and others; and fraktur (ornately illuminated) drawings from Pennsylvania. A large painted cupboard from the Jaffrey House of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, serves as the setting for the display of small ceramic objects of the kind owned by the Jaffrey family in the early 18th century.

Amelia Peabody Gallery / The Art of Making Furniture in the 18th Century

Bombé chest of drawers, about 1780Drawing upon the Museum’s renowned collection of 18th-century furniture, this gallery explores issues of design and construction in a variety of lively and interactive displays. A dramatic installation of case pieces emphasizes the differences between blockfront, serpentine, and bombé forms in New England and New France. Other arrangements reveal how this furniture was constructed (with drawers removed, for example), and show their intricate interiors (with multiple drawers, pigeonholes, and other nooks). The work of highly trained specialists in woodworking is examined, especially carvers, turners, upholsterers, gilders, and frame makers, including their contribution to the design and appearance of the finished product. Two interactive touch screens with videos, created in collaboration with the North Bennet Street School in Boston, demonstrate many of the techniques associated with furniture construction and decoration.

Prudence S. and William M. Crozier, Jr. Gallery / Seymour and Revere: Neoclassicism in Boston

Tambour desk, 1793–96, John Seymour and Thomas SeymourThis gallery focuses on some of New England’s primary craftsmen in the federal period: the cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour and the silversmith Paul Revere. For works by both the Seymours and Revere, the Museum’s collection is unsurpassed. Adjacent and complementary to the Oak Hill period rooms, the gallery also presents works by Samuel McIntire, a key New England architect and carver largely responsible for the Oak Hill rooms. Gilbert Stuart’s portraits of an elderly Paul Revere and his wife are shown along with other Boston portraits and landscapes of the period. Henry Sargent’s two large genre scenes, The Dinner Party (about 1821) and The Tea Party (about 1824), which depict entertainments in which silver and furniture are seen in use, are also prominently featured.

Lisbeth L. Tarlow and Stephen B. Kay Gallery / Oak Hill Lobby
James and Darcy Marsh Gallery / Oak Hill Bedroom
Oak Hill Parlor
Oak Hill Dining Room

Interior door frame from entrance to Oak Hill, about 1800–01, Samuel McIntireThis gallery offers an opportunity to present to visitors a textured and layered interpretation of the Oak Hill Mansion, originally located in present-day Danvers, Massachusetts, from its construction in 1800-1801 and furnishing through the several phases of its restoration and display by the Museum since 1928. It also highlights an architectural element from the house, the large original front doorway; the door is a reproduction made by students and faculty from the nationally recognized furniture making program at the North Bennet Street School in Boston. In addition, the lobby features a video presentation detailing the history of the house and its occupants over the years, as well as a case where family objects are displayed.

The reinstalled dining room, parlor, and bedchamber from the mansion known as Oak Hill, designed by Salem’s famous architect and carver Samuel McIntire, provides a look at the interiors and lifestyle of Elizabeth Derby West, the daughter of a wealthy New England shipping magnate in the early 19th century. Most of the furnishings on view are original to the house and include furniture by John and Thomas Seymour, McIntire, and John Doggett; an overmantel painting by Michele Felice Cornè; and Chinese export porcelain and English silver owned by the family. The dining table is set with porcelain, glassware, flatware, and other objects originally owned by Elizabeth Derby West and her family. Reproduction carpets and wallpaper based on period patterns have been recently installed.